Originally published to the blog on December 8 2014…
I must write to share a story that has left me wondering who was in the wrong.
Some background first. In my family, handwritten thank you cards don’t happen. Instead, we (and I include all of my immediate relatives like cousins etc) make a phone call and express thanks and catch up with family. I’ve always written thank you cards to those outside of the family however. I’m the oldest of all of my cousins bar three; they are my step cousins, and as they became part of the family only recently, and are much older than all of us (there is a seven year gap minimum), we don’t know them that well. For example, the oldest, M, recently got married, and none of us were invited. We didn’t expect to be either, but my parents sent a nice card.
Now to the story. Imagine my (pleasant) surprise when M sent me a birthday gift (for the first time). It was a origami bookmark with my name on it. I thought that this was a very kind thing for M to send me, and so I obtained his phone number from my aunt, his stepmother, and called him. We chatted for a little while about university (I’m going to university next year; he just graduated), and I thanked him for the gift. The conversation ended, and I thought that was that.
I was wrong.
About half an hour later, I had a phone call, from M’s phone. I picked up and answered not M, but his wife S (for she-devil). She screamed at me about how “ungrateful I was, and that a phone call does not sufficiently convey gratitude, and that I ought to have sent a card”. She hung up after ranting at me for several minutes. I was rather shaken, but decided that writing a card wouldn’t kill me, and that M was probably too nice to say anything. So I wrote a nice thank you card and sent it, after getting M’s address from my aunt again, thinking it was over.
I was again mistaken.
A few days later (when I presume the card had arrived) I got another phone call seemingly from M. It was S, who now screamed and ranted at me about how ”I had mocked her by sending a card, and how I was a brat” but that she and M never wanted any more contact from me ever again. She again hung up without letting me speak. I was pretty upset this time, but declined to tell my aunt, who I normally tell everything. I received another phone call from M, but I didn’t answer.
Was I totally in the wrong? I can’t help but feel as if this were an over-reaction. Any counsel is most welcome Miss Jeanne 1207-14
You did nothing wrong. The only error was in possibly presuming M shares the opinion of his wife. You received a gift from M, you called and spoke with M to thank him so your interactions are with and have been with M. What S does or says is irrelevant to the situation and should be ignored. Learn early to have little to do with the family drama queen. Ask your aunt again for contact information for M that S would not have access to, for example, a work phone number or a work address or send it to your aunt “Attention: M” so that she can hand it to him personally. Your step cousin’s wife is a disaster in the making and I suspect all is not happy in Newly Married Land.
Updated February 1, 2015 from the original poster:
I am the OP who wrote to you a little while back about my step-sousin and his new, “crazy”, wife. I think I understand better now what has happened, and I thought I’d give you an update.
After reading your advice, I talked to my aunt about getting another number for M. She asked why, and I told her what had happened. She seemed surprised, as she said she’d always got on well with S. So, I probed, and learned a little bit of family history.My Uncle, my aunt’s husband, divorced his wife about ten years ago. I was only young and so don’t remember much about it. He and his ex-wife were never happy, but all three of their teenage children blamed my aunt for the divorce, saying that she’d “broken up their family”. This isn’t true, as my aunt and uncle met after divorce proceedings had started.This attitude came from her and her parents, possibly because he was not forced to pay much alimony. So my aunt and her stepchildren never had a good relationship, and this unfortunately led them to dislike our entire family on principal (although they hadn’t met most of us).
After finding out all of this, I called M back several days later, and got S instead. I politely asked to speak to M, but she stopped me. She started to apologise for how she had treated me before, saying that she was acting “in defence”. I asked her what she meant. It appears that M had never got over his resentment of my aunt and my entire family. S had pushed him to send me the bookmark after she found the card from my parents. She simply didn’t know that it was our family tradition to call, but also was under the impression that I had been snippy with M, and hadn’t once thanked him during the entire phone call. Then, he told her how I’d probably write just to try and show her up to my family as the loony new wife, and when she got my letter, he seemed to be right. She had meantime got into contact with my aunt, and had tried to make friends, hoping to be the bigger person. She was surprised to hear no mention of wither phone call, and put two and two together, that M wasn’t exactly being honest. We have now made up, and I hope to stay in contact with her. But not M.
I think I’ve finally learned that you really can’t judge people from first impressions. She really does have anger issues, but is actually nice under all of it. M seemed nice, but is in fact manipulative. I hope I don;t have to see him much, but I am trying to make friends with S.
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The update just seems to add another layer of drama icing to the drama cake. Lots of instability going on in that corner of the world, from all parties!
“Nice” to get an update… However I’m with the commenter that suggests distance be kept anyway. One of the disturbed individuals in my own “orbit” also apologized profusely for her first outburst. Stayed good and sweet until the next unprovoked “trip”.
Never mind a “cordial” tone someone suggested. There is no need to involve the heart, when plain distant civility will do. I am sure that there are other, more firmly anchored individuals that deserve your time and attention.
Sounds like a bunch of wolves in sheep’s clothing. In ‘S’s case, a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
Don’t share any confidences with these people and watch yourself.
I would be inclined to maintain a civil distance from this pair. I, personally, would be far more wary of S. What kind of person flies into a total stranger, not once, but twice, on the basis of defending another (grown) person’s feelings?
I have always found that someone who feels compelled to fight others’ battles for them (usually without their knowledge), and who then blames them for the ensuing miscommunication and excessive drama, has a very bad sense of personal boundaries and personal responsibility. Such people have been pretty toxic in my life, because it was once quite easy for me to get sucked in to helping and soothing and calming and supporting the person generating all the drama. I now identify the pattern quickly, and duck the drama.
Your mileage may vary, but that’s the road I’ve traveled.
I’m glad you feel better about the situation, OP, but I’d still keep away. Be “friendly”, but not “friends”.
If she’s telling the truth, she naively let her manipulative husband get in her head. It can and will happen again and it won’t be good for your friendship. If she’s lying and is just trying to pass the blame off on somebody to justify her anger and conclusion-jumping, then she’s toxic. Believe me, some people are VERY good at appearing sweet, sometimes for years on end. They’ve taken the idea that you catch more flies with honey and twisted it to meet their selfish needs.
Either way, these people are sending up all kinds of red flags. Stay at a comfortable distance.
Weren’t this people newlyweds? Nice relationship they seem to have with each other…
M and S sound as bad as each other. When your parents divorce it is truamatic, as I know form personal expierince but why blame an entire family who had noting to do with it? Why blame the step mother? M sounds very manipulative to me and if S has anger issues then she needs to get those sorted. I would be very weary of them.
I would keep my distance from both of them. You admit you understand she has anger issues, but “nice underneath ” won’t keep you safe. Also the fact that she’s pushed him to send it is very sketchy. No one mentioned she had part of it, a day she must have known the family history. Stay safe.
P.S I’ve got a firend who has behavioural issues and she is now going on a course – she has never once lost her temper with me. We’ve had disagreements but she has never got angry with me. Once when she did loose her temper with someone she shouldn’t have done she admitted she ad issues and is going to go on an anger managment course.
Uh. OP. Have you actually spoken to M about this? Because I wouldn’t take anything S says at face value. If she’s the manipulator, she might be lying about M saying those things. Please try to talk to M about this in private.
I agree with those who urge the OP to keep a civil distance, but a distance nonetheless.
Long story short: for 2+ decades, we all operated under the assumption that a certain female relative was the poor, put-upon wife who “handled” her husband’s outbursts, negativity, and general boorishness. Most of us spent untold numbers of hours and psychic energy “helping” and “supporting” female relative. Imagine our shock when after her death, we all learn (separately) that the truth was the opposite and that it was the female relative who incited, antagonized, provoked, and manipulated her husband into these behaviors, complete with total lies about many of us. We all dearly wish we could have back those hours we supported that female relative and deeply regret that we inadvertently were players in her lifelong drama.
So general advice: steer clear of drama. It never ends well.